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Designing a Planetary Probe

  • Planétarium
Design a planetary probe
Photo: NASA

Tabs group


Description of the activity

In groups, students choose a planet and design a probe while selecting the specific tools to use during a scientific mission on that planet. The groups then create models or plans for their probe and explain their choices to the rest of the class.


By the end of this activity, students will be able to:

  • Present the main characteristics of the planet studied.
  • Understand the main functions of a space probe.
  • Explain the use of specific tools for exploring another planet.

Equipment needed by the student

  • The enclosed student handout.
  • Documentation (books, magazines, websites, CD-ROMs) to help students do research.
  • Arts and crafts supplies (pencils, paper, glue, scissors) to help students plan and build their models.


  1. Divide your class into eight groups (nine if you want students to design a lunar probe). Each group will be responsible for designing one manned or unmanned probe custom-tailored to a particular planet.
  2. Encourage students to do research in the library or to use other sources of information to gather as many facts possible about the planet they’ll explore. Warn them about using outdated sources (more than 10 years old) and suggest they double-check any information found on the Web.
  3. Each group must imagine the type of space probe and the devices and instruments that would be best adapted to their planet. Students should also be prepared to justify their decisions. For greater realism, you could act as the government committee to which each group must submit a proposal citing the estimated costs and justifications for its space probe. You can also impose certain restrictions. For example, you might allow each group to choose no more than 15 of the elements listed in the student handout.
  4. Encourage students to take into account such factors as the feasibility of sending an astronaut to Pluto given how long the journey would take.
  5. After your students have decided on the elements and design of their planetary probes, ask each group to complete a blueprint or cross-section diagram of its probe. The best way to approach this step is to ask each student to draw several components of the probe and then have each group fit the different components together. You might also have group members collect various objects to build a three-dimensional model of their probe (fairly realistic models can be made out of cardboard tubes, empty tin cans, small cardboard boxes, aluminum foil, and poster paint).

Category of activity

  • Preparatory activity

Sub-category of activity

  • Class activity

Grade level

  • Elementary cycle three
  • Secondary cycle one
  • Secondary cycle two

Number of students per group

3 to 4


A few 60-minute periods spread over a week or two

Activity Sheets

Designing a Planetary Probe[PDF - 425 KB - 6 pages]

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